Kurt Cobain’s Fender Stratocaster (Black, SD Hot Rails)
This black Stratocaster first appeared on December 5, 1991, at gig played in London’s Kilburn National Ballroom. At that time, it was used alongside Kurt’s 1965 Fender Jaguar (main guitar), and another black Stratocaster with a ‘Vandalism’ sticker on it. From that point on, since the Vandalism Strat was destroyed on December 5, 1991, this black Stratocaster became Kurt’s main ‘disposable’ guitar – the one he would feel free to break at the end of the show.
Most notably, this black Strat was used during Nirvana’s Saturday Night Live performance that aired on January 9, 1992. Note that Kurt played the first song (Smells Like Teen Spirit) on the Jaguar, and switched to the Strat on the second one, which ended with the total destruction of the set, as per usual.
From that point on it becomes unclear what exactly happened to this guitar. It seems that during Nirvana’s Oceania tour in January/February 1992 Kurt mainly used a Jaguar/Telecaster combo, with a few odd Stratocasters in between. Among them was a black Stratocaster identical to this one, but it’s impossible to know for sure whether it was the exact same guitar or just one that looked like it.
With the end of that tour, Nirvana had a break until June, when they went to Europe. During this tour, Kurt again mostly used his Fender Jaguar, but also often picked up a black Stratocaster with a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails in the bridge socket. This guitar at some point had what looked like Kramer branded neck on it around June, and the went back to a Fender neck around July. It seems that Kurt broke off this neck on the night of July 4th, in Bilbao, Spain.
The next gig that the band played was the famous Reading festival, on August 30, 1992. At the end of the concert, Dave Grohl picked up a black Stratocaster (which Kurt used on a few songs that night, starting with ‘Dumb’) and smashed it into pieces, and threw them into the audience. It seems that from this point on, no black Strat was used again in 1992, so that was most likely the end of that guitar.
On the subject whether this was the same exact guitar all along or a few different ones, the answer probably lies somewhere in between. According to Kurt’s tech, Earnie, he often pieced together what was left of Kurt’s guitars after he smashed them, so it is likely that the black Stratocaster was a sort of a Franken-strat, featuring different parts at different times. For the sake of simplicity, at this point, we’ll regard it as one guitar.
A lot of what you see from ’91 through to the end is the same five, six, seven guitars just being recycled over and over again with different parts. You know, you change the pickguard, put a different color on there, change the neck and suddenly it appears to be a different guitar. We’d keep ’em out there until they really were beyond repair. [The story behind Kurt Cobain’s Fender Jaguar]